Anyone who thinks history is boring has never been exposed to Virgil M. Hillyer's A Child's History of the World. Even the most reluctant history student will be drawn into the narrative of the world with Hillyer's witty, informative, utterly readable text and Carle Boog and Mary Wright's charming black and white maps and drawings. This is history as everyone should experience it for the first time, even if you have to encounter it for the first time again.
How Does This Work?
This book doesn't "work" the way most history curriculum texts work. There are no tests, no accompanying student workbook, no teacher's guide, no in-text exercises. There are simply 91 digestible chapters that offer a survey of the world's history from Creation to the first quarter of the twentieth century. Hillyer was the first headmaster of Calvert School, and he wrote this book for his students.
Hillyer says in the introduction (to be read by parents and teachers) that children should not necessarily be given the most objectively important information, but the most important information they can appreciate. This book is not a comprehensive history of the world by any means. It is a breezy introduction that will prepare them for further study and whet their appetite for more. Unfortunately most texts they encounter later won't be half as amusing as this one, but if they learn to love the study of history itself from its pages, that shouldn't matter.
The author also suggests in the introduction that children be required to recite in their own words what they have learned in each chapter. Since the real goal is for them to learn, you can't just have them read a chapter and then forget about it. Repetitive drill will help them retain the important information, while the engaging style will still keep them eager to read more.
History is presented in its most intuitive form—chronologically. Hillyer maps the "Staircase of Time" at the beginning of the book and follows it up through the ages. The nearer one gets to the top the more detailed each stage becomes since there is more information available concerning it. This is not only an introduction to the facts of history; this is an introduction to the study of history, and methods historians use for determining what actually happened in the past and what is mere legend.
A Child's History of the World is intended for young students, and is probably ideal for kids grades 1-4. However, both kids and adults will probably find this a fantastic read, whether for school or just for fun. Almost anyone will learn something, and if you aren't wildly entertained by the always interesting, often hilarious V. M. Hillyer, you probably need to watch less TV. An older student who simply can't stand history may just need a break from textbooks and some time alone with this book.
Our Honest Opinion:
One of the best things about this book is that, while it was written for young students, it wasn't written in a condescending way or one that wouldn't also appeal to older students and adults (though perhaps for different reasons). And while it's a fun read, it's also thoroughly informative and doesn't sacrifice information for frivolity. In all, you would be hard pressed to find a better introduction to world history. While the author occasionally makes judgments some of us may be uncomfortable with (like listing reasons the Crusades were good), overall this is simply straightforward presentation of history. I only wish Hillyer had written books for every subject.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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